- Lesson details
Learn the fundamentals of oil painting with acclaimed artist and instructor Charles Hu.
This course breaks down the entire process of oil painting and is intended for beginning and experienced artists alike. Charles explains the important concepts of gesture, shape design, and composition. You will also learn what materials are needed, how to get set up, and the techniques used to apply paint.
After taking this course, you will be on your way to oil painting from life using a variety of different subjects and palettes.
In this lesson, Charles demonstrates the techniques in achieving correct values. Using only black and white, he guides you through the process while painting a still life.
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we're gonna do a still life, black and white paintings. And so
what's a good thing about doing a still life it's - instead of
figures there's, you know, obviously require a lot more
positions on the figures. Still life,
although there are still a lot of observations to do, actually
there's actually I think today we're dealing with five, you know, five objects,
and we still have the concern about the compositions
and the foreground, midground, background. So there's
actually a little more things we have to worry about but
the figure obviously just the proportions,
the range to screw up the proportions is a lot more narrow than
the still life and there's, you know - but everything has it's own challenge.
work just with the black and white still and then - so we have
a set up here. And usually one thing about -
obviously we're working on a full reference now but
still, when I set up a still life
what you wanna do is first you want to pick up a different
sizes objects, obviously, because you want some taller, some wider, shorter,
you don't want them to be similar sizes. You want
most of the time your set up will be somewhat a triangle shape.
And you don't want to make something like a square. Normally I
never done anything square set up. So once you have a triangle, again we have a natural sense of
gesture. It carries the viewer's eyes and we want
that, we want to have that gesture. Height difference
right. Proportions different. Even textures different.
You know you can find different textures of an object. So today we have
some old china and then the skull, apples,
and little brass cup.
And the book. So
okay so let's get started. I'm gonna also wash a tone
just with pure black,
keep it thin
or dilute it thin.
If I were working with a
very large scale of painting
sometimes I actually just take the rag and then
tone with the rag, which is just
Again I push it in
from the outside, push it in
outside of the canvas, push towards the middle.
this is still a 16 by 20 canvas.
You don't have to work on this size, you can work on a smaller 9 by
12 and 8 by 10 is fine. Or even smaller
will be fine, too. Again when I
do landscape you probably don't want - well this is still okay for landscape
but like I said you don't want to use like
an 18 by 24 for landscape.
what I'm gonna do is a little different. I'm not gonna
kind wet with my paper towel.
I might - maybe in the middle sections because I want some of
texture, the strokes, showing through.
So back to my small filbert brush.
Not too wet.
Same as the landscape, you wanna have a sense of where
the table, basically the horizon line,
your table edge is at.
So you get a sense of how much space you have on the top and the bottom. Obviously you don't wanna put it right
in the middle right. So in this case I have more space on the top
and a little bit less on the bottom. So in landscape
you want to know where the horizon line is.
I might purposefully make
that vase a little bit taller.
Be aware of the silhouettes.
Painting some of the dark, again to give me
that, the grounding, some of those
Again always be aware of diagonal
what's in the front, what's in the back.
skulls and that's why I picked this still life.
I teach a drawing class, we had to draw
you know some skulls to understand, you know,
how to draw a skull and its proportions,
and how that relates to the actual face of a person
so I like skulls.
Looking at the major shadow shapes.
Look at the
lights and dark difference and again their shapes difference
and their relationships.
I'm not sure if
I wanna line up this brass cup
to this apple right here. Like usually I don't like to line things up.
But I might make it a little bit lower.
I still get that kind of diamond relationships.
light relationships. The shapes. I can see I like triangle,
once I see a triangle I know it relates to - in this case relates
back to my skull and up to the vase and
again I might - and I'll look at this contour,
how they flow, you know, to see if the silhouette looks interesting.
See how the black
is anchored to start to tie things up. So I start putting
some darker, which is the book end - not the book end,
the spine of the book. I can see I need something -
so much strong dark here, I need something darker here
which there will be because that's where that cloth, the shadow of that cloth.
I like that this triangle goes
in. Take your eyes to the book and
in this shadow right here shoots back out to the cup.
I wanna carry this shadow a little bit further because there's nothing really much here any more so I can
bring this out a little bit and bring your eyes back this way.
Make sure again there's a flow
nicely into the skull.
Push out that - I wanna push out that
vase a little more and sometimes you can - we also on this -
you know at school
we did this called the rub out technique. You know, take the rag
and start to rub out some of the highlights.
I like to
rub out, make your
paper towel into a wedge like this.
So you still have the control,
almost like using an eraser, you guys probably have done
you know toned your paper with the charcoal powder and then you draw your
sketch and take your eraser - not kneaded eraser, although that
could work too - usually you have one kneaded eraser, which is a softer eraser,
more organic, then you have this harder plastic eraser
or the pink pearl eraser, which has a nice edge, and
that's when you sculpt the shape, the shape the light with it
the chisel eraser.
Or you can also do
is using a clean brush,
dry clean brush.
Make sure it's dry and you can
go in and scribble.
The reason why it's dry is because it's already kinda wet down there so you don't need to
get - you don't want your brush to get too wet otherwise it just
Probably a little too wet so it can't really pick up much, probably a rag is still better.
Again just to
See that wedge will give you that nice
that nice, thin
highlight on that cloth.
Or I was gonna say if you want you can even use your finger but that's probably not a good
idea because, although we
all have done it but again
those paints, like I said, they're not the safest things out there,
you don't wanna get them in your body.
Again also see how the light,
the overall, how the light forms. Does it still have that
nice cohesive feel, the flow?
I don't like this to be too horizontal,
I like what the reference, which is diagonal, take you into the space,
points to this apple right here because
I'm kinda still running out of room a little bit. I'll see
if I can still bring that up. If not I will be
okay - if not I'll just kinda leave it.
It points to that
slice of apple.
Again I'm starting
to get a sense of the silhouette.
Okay I think that's not bad.
I'm gonna just darken the background. I'm not worried about these
two flowers first, I can come back and - come back
and paint that and stamp. And I can
later use maybe use back of my brush just to, you know, sculpt it in like this.
But I'll do that
later. So let me paint in the background, so make those
light feel a little bit brighter.
So it looks like this side
is darker and this side has a little bit of a light. So usually what will happen
is a light coming shining this way hits on the object and it continues to bounce
this side. So I'm gonna go darker here, a little bit grayer.
So what I'm gonna do
I'm actually gonna do what I did with the background
of the other figure drawing, which I will try to see if I
can glaze it hopefully and it might start
drying up. So actually see if I can glaze
and put transparent black over. So still not pure black,
have some of these canvas show through. Again I like that effect.
Just see if I can do it now.
So it's not too wet, not too
dry. And just kinda have to
When I work into larger
areas, beside using a larger brush,
you notice I'm holding my brush like this too because it allows me to use my whole
arm. You're holding like this, often intuitively
you kinda use your fingers, although you probably can still use the
the hand - I mean the arm - but somehow this way I get more
broad strokes. So - which I like, you know, for covering large areas.
Again I wanna get a sense of the gesture.
I'm always thinking about gestures. I can feel the cloth
kinda swinging this way, so it kinda comes out, comes in like this
and here it gets subtle, here it actually gets really quiet
and then you merge into the still life.
So think about - again always think about the gesture and think about where is the passive area
and where's the active area. Of course the contrast is gonna be right here and
actually about right here it starts getting a little darker.
And then you think of the ying/yang balance.
So you notice, if you know
the ying/yang sign, you've got the...
Right. So if you look at it
you've got a more of a dark area, large dark area
right here it's still got some of the
light right here. Because later when painting dark
some of the light, you know, you've got - also this dark
area, you also have, you know, some of, you know, the light.
So kinda keep them balanced. So you
got - sorry you got the light, almost actually this should be reversed,
you know, to emphasize on this. So you got the light and some of the dark,
a lot of light, some dark, and then you got this.
A lot of dark, it's got a little bit of a light but it's still kinda keep
the balance. So imagine if it's all
lights here, no light here at all, this is just gonna get
too off balance like this. So in this case somewhere has a lot of dark,
a little bit of a light, keep the balance.
And notice that even when I apply
these broad strokes, very kinda wild stroked
in a way they're not wild at all
it's - it has
thoughts put into it, besides the gestures. That's why I'm doing it
kinda consistently not getting all crazy
because I want to make sure
I'm thinking about the gesture, thinking about the graphic relationships
See how I follow with the gestures.
super spontaneous, crazy stuff, I like it maybe towards
the end. Unless like if I already did a couple paintings
I'm kind of warmed up, in my zone, then I know exactly how I can pre visualize
how it's gonna look then I can just go crazy at it. But if it's just
you know, starting a new painting, I want it to be
a little bit conservative. And that's the other
thing that you want to -
as an artist you want to be concerned about. Same as the drawing too
is you want to pace yourself. You know most of the
people I know like to do quick sketches in their class, figure drawing classes,
because it's quick, it's energetic, it keeps momentum going.
If they don't finish their drawing it's
okay because, you know, as long as they get that drawing it feels like
it has a nice energy and a nice, you know, nice strokes, fluid strokes.
But the thing is they will still never know how to draw that hand, never know
how to draw that ear, the nose, and because
they don't know how to. But like I said, they are kinda cheating themselves
by not, you know, again basically kinda cheating themselves.
So that's why a long pose is a benefit. And
long pose is really, you know - or like this, you know,
go to the New Masters Academy site, use their photo references, there are
a lot of great photo reference up there. I use their photo reference all the time. Almost
every day and I'll sketch something from the reference. And just to, you know again,
keep the momentum going, keep
sharpening your skill, learning things so you don't get intimidated in a class
situation because now you got people standing behind you - well standing maybe next to you
or might even standing behind you so you get a little nervous
so you always never wanna get to the part of your weakness. Then it's fine to go home and study
those. Practice drawing, again, drawing the hand, you know, drawing the ear at home.
And then you can apply that to a live scenario.
So you need to have that balance.
Knowing how to draw fast, also knowing how
to be able to slow down and be patient
and observe carefully to finish up a long pose.
Painting is obviously more of a longer process. The long pose
drawing definitely will help. How do I know where all those
gestures flow? Those are from the short poses. So I got
So here I'm just gonna keep it matte.
Almost just drop in the pure black. I see a nice
graphic shape of the black here, coming here, coming here, almost like
this and face into this slightly transparent area.
Again fast enough to create something interesting.
Edges or shapes. Slow enough
to know where exactly
your design, you know, how
your design is set up. How
you want your audience to read.
So as you can see once you establish
almost like a
black and white, you know,
Frank Miller comic books
so you should always have a pretty dynamic read and
there's only three values. You know we got the dark, we got the mid tone,
which in this case the shadow, and we got the light. You know that's all
we need, three values. Sometimes we go to four but three that can take care of things.
So now I'm gonna go into my light.
I like to start
things as more obvious.
When I look at this, you know, set out the skull,
it's more obvious. The vase because, I guess, because all the textile
gets a little tricky to know exactly the correct value. And don't start with
that, start with something more obvious. The apple or the skull.
Same as when you guys paint.
Don't start with - maybe don't start with the shadow
on the face if that's hard to figure out.
See I need to clean my spot, like I want a more
a light side, clean light here. I got this little dark, little
steps. I'm gonna clean this up a little bit.
thin, how liquidy that is. See that's not
gonna do any good. Again I'm also gonna scrape that out a little bit.
Put that toward
I can actually - making a gradations.
Again seeing as I'm working with black and white.
So I probably wouldn't use the
whitest white, I would probably use a step down because
you know I'm afraid if there's
gonna be a stronger highlight it's gonna be more of these
pure white and if I start with this then I have no room for that. Alright
I did mention if I kinda scribble my paint onto my canvas,
it's gonna get a little bit dirty, it's gonna tone down a little bit. Okay but then you have to
kinda do a lot of work to scribble. So instead of doing that
I'm just gonna do it one step down
so I don't need to scribble so much.
And I still have room to go up and go down.
So still very light. Although see it's not
I had to switch my brush, the other one I was using was a little too big.
I'm just gonna wing in those teeth, those lines go back smaller.
I'm gonna use the same brush for the shadows on the teeth so I'm gonna squeeze
out nice and clean. I have a darker small one but
I'll probably just use that. So I'm gonna switch to
another smaller brush. I though I didn't have it.
Again I'm gonna reshape the light side of the teeth.
They are starting looking a little repetitive and that's something you probably don't want to do. I'm
gonna switch to a smaller brush.
I like to
make every stroke count. Like if I can put one stroke in,
just explain the whole plane and the whole value
I'm happy with that. But of course sometimes not perfect, you have to go
over a few times but
I'll try to minimize.
And usually if you start going over too many times that
probably means you're using too small of a brush and you need to switch.
I'm still not
happy with those teeth. That looks really bad actually.
I might come back and, you know, to fix it later.
Alright don't get caught up too long I think
I kinda am. Let me paint this shadow in here.
So it's not
I'll see if I can leave the tone. It might be a little
too light as I reflect the light. I'm just gonna leave it for now and if it's too light I'll
paint over it. Because I like to have some of the board showing through.
God I hate those teeth. I'm gonna...
do that for now. I think that's probably better.
And try to paint all those teeth.
is gonna be right at this corner.
Kinda like that straight
edge in the back.
So move onto the apple's light but I don't want
to be light as the skull because
maybe that's what I'll want to be the first read.
But this guy, little guy, we see
in a little more light because he's facing that way.
Oops maybe not that bright.
And I kinda like how this kinda hook up pointing towards the skull.
Just keep it abstract like this.
Again now again I spent a little -
probably spent a little too much time on the skull
and but now I wanna make sure everything works cohesively.
Everything kind of relates.
Again once - now I'm
gonna start playing with the composition, the flow a little bit. Once again the paint
gets a little bit dry, allows me to layer more paint on top so you won't
blend too much. So I wanted to, again, I still wanna
get this gesture too, this kinda diagonal
flow goes into that book, up
to the apple shooting up from this cloth and come back.
Sometimes I have a whole like five or six brushes
and the paper towel and the brushes
in my mouth.
So now see how here I can
see quite unified in terms of light and dark shapes.
Here it starts getting a little kinda scattered.
and so we need to kinda unify here a little bit. It's got this too fancy,
just kinda wave strokes. It doesn't really
give us a clean kinda clean read. So that's
see how can we clean that up.
So again use your - the
dark value on the spine of the book helps to
kind of push out that
So again, use a dark value to bring out your light.
So on the set up usually you have to be aware
of otherwise - so you can have that
I want to bring that spine out a little more.
You can see how
I scribble so much with my brush you can see how the hair is already
kind of falling apart.
When I make two strokes, as you can see here
and here, see how I also make them a different length?
Okay fast enough to create,
kind of free you up
and slowing down to still
define the identity of each object.
Get a sense of where that table top
Maybe a little bit darker on this
Focusing onto the
I need something
to bring it up to that vase
but I wanna try to just use somewhat transparent - well look at my hand
geez. That's why you need to wear a glove.
I only wear a glove on my left hand. But I
wanna try to use the undertone, that transparent
tone, just use the rack to bring out some of those lights.
And give a different look to it.
So as you can see, painting
is a dirty business. You get it all over, you know,
in my studio I have aprons -
you guys can only see my canvas, I have a bunch of paper towels
that I clean all my brush I kinda throw it on the floor, I got paint on the floor.
Just gonna dry brush this
to show where that shadow
on the other side of the muzzle.
Paint a nice dark right next to this
Just pop out that cup. It's kinda crooked.
One stroke, one value.
Do the best that you can.
This shape right looks - the shape of the light
looks so even.
Very - oops, not that great.
Just get maybe
give a sense of that tabletop edge.
You know I'm not gonna paint that textile, again this
is for demonstration purpose, I'm not gonna take it to a full
rendering. And again you can see some more about
designing and making things cohesive,
the overall composition reads right, the light and dark relationships,
do they flow well?
Is that taking away attention from the skull? Probably
but I will experiment, I will try it out.
Again if I don't like it I'll scrape it out and I'll do it again but it seems
pretty light to be on the vase because it's also reflecting the surface
compared to the, you know, the plastic skull.
But, you know, I push it, like I said, I push beyond
too much then that gets too much and then I'll kind of
retreat but I might just -
just gonna leave it, again
just for experimental purposes.
Note that one's further away, maybe not so light. And that's because
he's gonna take away from that attention of this one.
So always thinking about
I don't like this because it'll -
it's not really quite clear, things are still floating a little bit. I already have
kind of broken edges here. I'm wanting to make that a little more clear.
Okay here we go. So
again there's probably
a little more stuff I can still go into it.
But like I said, it's
demos. And so I think at least the main concept,
how to start from tone way - I'm getting my hands so dirty -
tone wash all the way to how to develop the lay in,
thinking about the concepts of compositions and we did a little bit of
rub out today, which I wasn't planning to but some things are good
to know. And we start from that
and using the dark to establish your
anchors, your overall - that black and white, just you know
there's one point - only just like I said, just looks like just a black and white
comic book. We'll do just a black and white
two values separation. At that time you already can read the set up
and then after that we just, you know, we block into light and making sure all the
light also works cohesively. Alright so this is how the process that I do all my paintings,
not just alla prima, you know, the personal
studio painting as well. Again, only difference is
the studios just take more time, more labor to render.
But to me, the painting, the fun, the most exciting part of the painting,
most fresh, the process I love the most is
mostly the beginning part, the design part, making sure everything works, you know, work well,
is interesting. And then all that is established
then you can spend hours and days, months
you know to do the rendering
part of it. Okay so hopefully you guys enjoyed this lesson. I will see you guys next time.
for this chapter is get three objects, just
three, no more than three. And I want you guys to kinda find different sizes and
different heights, right, and for example maybe a bottle
and apples, maybe a book. And you can see a different level, different
sizes. And I want you guys to set up into a triangle format, right, don't put them like
side by side, put them in a triangle format and also get yourself a
light. What I use, I use those work clamp lights that you can clamp onto
the side and you have those little aluminum cover and then also use at least
60 watts, you know, 200 watts light bulbs and then just kinda shine it
paint from that. And then like I said just three objects only, okay.